Seeking Stories & Photos for New Idlewild Park Book!

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

The next year is going to be pretty busy! I’m pleased to announce that I have started working on my second book for The History Press, which will tell the story of Idlewild Park, Pennsylvania’s oldest amusement park!

I need your help! I’m seeking never-before-heard stories and rare photographs from past and present visitors, employees and amusement park enthusiasts to feature in this forthcoming book on Idlewild Park. Anyone interested in sharing their memories is encouraged to join my Idlewild Park Memories Facebook Group, tweet me, or contact me through my website.

For more than a century, Idlewild and SoakZone in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, has captured the hearts and imaginations of those who grew up visiting what’s considered one of the most beloved children’s parks in America. What began as a scenic picnic ground for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road in the late 19th century is now recognized as the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania, the third oldest in the country and the 12th oldest in the world. The park will celebrate its 140th season in 2017. This new book will revisit the history of Idlewild, from the historic land on which it was developed, to its connection with the railroad, the innovators that commercialized and expanded the park, the classic rides and attractions created there and the cherished memories of people who grew up or worked at Idlewild.

Idlewild Park is one of the best known and treasured landmarks in not only the Ligonier Valley but also in western Pennsylvania and beyond. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the park’s fascinating history and sharing new and unique stories with the public!

Click here for official press release.


Pap: Manila Police Station or Hike Shoe Factory? – Manila, Philippines c. 1946/1947

It’s been far too long since I last posted some of my grandfather’s photographs of his service in the United States’ draft army and the time he spent in Manila, Philippines during the interim between World War II and the Korean War. In honor of Veteran’s Day today, I think it’s time to get back to sharing more of the wonderful historical photographs that my pap took during his travels. He was fortunate enough not to have to serve during war, but he still witnessed its horrific aftermath. It’s amazing and heartbreaking how much damage and loss you can still see in these pictures more than a year after the city was destroyed in the month-long Battle of Manila (February 3 – March 3, 1945), the climax of Japan’s three-year military occupation of the Philippines during World War II. If you’d like to find out how my pap ended up in the Philippines in the first place, I suggest first reading the biography I’ve written about my pap (Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr.) and then checking out the photographs that I’ve previously posted by searching under the “maternal grandfather” tag or by clicking here before continuing with more recent posts.

Thomas Alexander Piotrowski, Sr._1946-47_Manila, Philippines_21Moving on, here we have yet another photograph from the city of Manila which shows the utter destruction that happened to the city when American forces came to liberate the country during World War II. Japan attacked the Philippines the same day they bombed Pearl Harbor – December 7, 1941 – and took over Manila almost a month later. I’ve touched upon the Battle of Manila in previous posts. Many people were interned and massacred and many of the city’s cultural, governmental and civic buildings were decimated by bombing and shellfire.

Part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to get back to this genealogical project is I am not 100% sure of the identify of this building. The ruins below could be of what’s referred to as the New Manila Police Station or they could possibly be of the Hike Shoe Factory.

What I do know, according to some of the online research I’ve done and some information from a source, is that both buildings were located at opposite corners at the intersection of Isaac Peral Street (now United Nations Avenue) and San Marcelino Street.   During the Battle of Manila, both the new police station and the three-story shoe factory along with other nearby buildings (i.e. the Manila Club, Santa Teresita College and San Pablo Church), were part of a Japanese stronghold in that section of the the city, with the police station as the focal point of the resistance. The American forces (1st Battalion of the 129th Infantry) eventually accessed the building, demolished it with artillery and tank fire and assumed control of the ruins. It took about eight full days to clear the Japanese from these buildings.

The Hike Shoe Factory was also destroyed in this battle.  Apparently the “hike shoe” was a type of shoe worn by soldiers in the United States Navy, I’m assuming this was a type of high grade, modern hiking boot.  Apparently it was made by the United States Shoe Co. that had a factory in Manila.

So which building is it? Was this the new police station after it was destroyed in the Battle of Manila? My reliable source John Tewell has identified this building as such. However, another picture of what’s also supposedly the new police station doesn’t resemble the building my pap captured on film. According to Wikipedia, the Manila Police Department transferred their headquarters in 1949 into a new building constructed using money from the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1948, so was this building instead the destroyed shoe factory before being rebuilt for the new and current police headquarters? There appears to be another building in the background – is the the Manila Club? If so, that would suggest this is the shoe factory as the club was reportedly located just north of the factory. I have seen maps that place the police station at both the northwest and northeast corners of the intersection. I have so many questions! If anybody can help me definitively identify this building and at which corner of the intersection it sits, I would very much appreciate it!


Book Brainstorming

Hanging out at Jack Rabbit's Trading Post on Route 66 in Joseph City, Arizona (photo by David Zajdel)

Hanging out at Jack Rabbit’s Trading Post on Route 66 in Joseph City, Arizona (photo by David Zajdel)

Hello friends and happy fall! I can’t believe we are on the cusp of a new season. Where did all of the time go? It was a very busy summer for me between writing projects, musical gigs and traveling… and I’m still behind in everything I wanted to accomplish! I’ve also been lax in blogging, but you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as I do post there more regularly. Check out some pictures I’ve snapped from my wanderings, including a recent trip to Arizona that included some adventures along Route 66.  I’m still freelancing for the Latrobe Bulletin (almost 11 years!) so feel free to browse the articles I’ve written about Ligonier happenings and local government as I continue to post them here on my website.  Also, I’ll once again be promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes at the annual Fort Ligonier Days during the weekend of October 10-12 at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, so please stop by to say hello!

One major thing I am currently working on is developing a proposal for a second local history book with The History Press. I’ve brainstormed some ideas with my editor and I’ve already received some great suggestions from friends. What do you think would make an engaging and informative read about history in Pennsylvania, whether it’s focused in Ligonier, Pittsburgh, Westmoreland County, western Pennsylvania or statewide? I’m interested in hearing what local history topics readers want to learn about that may not have been covered before. What history fascinates you? Let me know in the comments or send me an email through my contact page. Thanks!


Please help save McKeesport’s historic 1908 roundhouse!

Courtesy of Jenni Dangel, WIP Arts

Courtesy of Jenni Dangel, WIP Arts

UPDATES: Please join the “Save the McKeesport Roundhouse” open Facebook group here! Please sign our petition asking Mayor Mike Cherepko to help stop the demolition by clicking here!


News broke last Saturday that the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County intends to demolish a historic building located near the Fifteenth Avenue Bridge in McKeesport, PA – a century-old roundhouse that was originally part of the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant. The demolition was originally scheduled for June 10 – only days after the news was announced.  So far, the building has been spared, but for how long? We are trying to spread the word about this and encourage people in the community to help us convince the MAWC to save this landmark.

The roundhouse has been an important and iconic structure in McKeesport for more than 100 years. As the first facility in the region to provide safe drinking water, the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant significantly impacted the health and welfare of local residents. The building has been designated a local historic landmark by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and Matt Bauman, a Liberty Borough native and a teacher in the McKeesport Area School District, has been hoping to nominate the 1908 building to the National Register of Historic Places.

 Yet, the MAWC wants to tear the roundhouse down to build a storage shed!  A cheap, run-of-the-mill storage shed with no intrinsic historic value, no aesthetic worth whatsoever.  I understand it costs money to restore the building to useable condition. But it’s also going to cost money to build the storage shed, which definitely won’t last as long as the current 106-year-old building.  As a municipal water authority this historic water softening plant is the MAWC’s HISTORY.  And they want to destroy a landmark rather than learn from it. Shameful.

I am a local writer and historian who grew up in McKeesport and White Oak.  I am a proud graduate of the McKeesport Area School District.  My family grew up, lived and worked in McKeesport and look back on its prosperous years fondly. It saddens me that the MAWC is going to destroy another piece of this city’s history instead of helping in one way to revitalize it. The city can rally and this is a way to help it do so.

I’m not alone. Many people in the McKeesport community and beyond are trying to save this important structure from oblivion.  Jenni Dangel, of WIP Arts, has been valiantly rallying the troops via social media (Thank you Jenni, for some great thoughts).  Jason Togyer wrote two powerful editorials this week in Tube City Almanac that I think beautifully sum up why we should not only care about saving the roundhouse but also why it’s important to preserve our local history overall. I encourage you to read them by clicking here and here.  You can read more about the history of the roundhouse here.

I implore the MAWC to stop the demolition plans. I implore them to work with local historical organizations and community members to come up with a feasible way to reuse this wonderful landmark.  If you feel the same way, please contact the MAWC immediately at 800-442-6829 or to tell them not to demolish the 1908 roundhouse.

What I’ve been up to…

Greetings friends! I can’t believe it’s May already and we are a third of the way through 2014. Where has the time gone?!

I’ve managed to stay quite busy over the last few months, once I thawed out from this monstrous winter.  Still, I have many more projects planned and even more ideas swirling around in my head… and not enough time! When I’m not able to sit down and write a full-fledged blog post about my endeavors, I try to stay active on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – please follow me there, too!

Ligonier Swinging BridgeI’ve tried to stay active in the Ligonier community by attending some recent events, such as the Ligonier Ice Fest and Bob Stutzman’s talk on his new book, Images of Rail: The Ligonier Valley Rail Road. I’ve also written several feature stories for the Latrobe Bulletin, in addition to covering regular local government meetings.  Reporting for the newspaper has given me amazing opportunities to meet new folks, visit new places and learn about what’s going on in the Ligonier Valley. I’ve talked to many kind and extraordinary people while on assignment.  I often wonder if our paths would cross if I weren’t a writer.  Have a read:

Ligonier Theatre #02Plaque fundraiser to keep screen lit at historic Ligonier Theatre
-April 19-20, 2014
Kid-centric season planned at Fort Ligonier
-April 7, 2014
LWA seeks teens for summer program
-April 1, 2014

New Ligonier Valley Trail signs connect town, townshipLigonier Valley Trail Sign
-March 22-23, 2014
Ligonier Coffee House celebrates 10th season
-March 15-16, 2014
Valley Youth Network in 20th year helping Ligonier teens
-March 8-9, 2014


Dave and I took advantage of a lovely Easter respite to follow history along the roads of western Pennsylvania. We are very blessed to live in this region as history is truly in our backyard.  You know I love following my now-beloved Lincoln Highway, so we obviously ended up there, but we also followed an earlier road also significant to American history – the National Road, the country’s first federally funded highway, which originally connected the east coast to the Ohio River and generally followed much of the Braddock Road. Today, US Route 40 follows the road’s general alignment, so we basically headed east from Uniontown towards Maryland and stopped at several attractions along the way. Check out some of my pictures:

Fort NecessityMt. Washington TavernTollhouse in Addison, PA

National Road Mile MarkerBraddock Road RemnantBraddock's Grave

Music is also a big part of my life. I’ve been rehearsing with the Penn-Trafford Community Band and had the honor of playing flute for an Easter vigil at St. John de la Salle in Delmont, PA.   More exciting news: Dave has also been hard at work with one of his two bands, Bad Boy Blues Band.Bad Boy Blues Band #01  This spring, the Greensburg-based group released Temptation’s Coming, its first album of original music. It’s a unique mix of various styles, including modern blues and rockabilly. Dave produced and mixed the album. Check out the band’s website to find out when and where they’ll be playing this year.  You can purchase their album online via iTunes or CD Baby or at a show near you.  Please come out and support local musicians!

Peter Guibert Trek DrumsticksDave and I also met up with Yankee Drummer Jim Smith, who you may remember replicated Civil War drummer Peter Guibert’s 1913 trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg for the Gettysburg sesquicentennial last year, along with friend Ray Zimmerman, trek coordinator Len DeCarlo, and Peter Guibert’s original drum.  Check out my posts on their remarkable 200-mile journey here and here for more background.  I purchased one pair of the 250 pairs of drumsticks that Jim used along his trek – proceeds of which will fund a future monument honoring military musicians.  All 250 pairs were crafted from the wood harvested from pin oak and white oak trees certified to have stood during the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863.  I am so honored to have played some small part in Jim and Ray’s historic journey, which is another point in a more than 150-year-old story that started with the Civil War, continued with veterans Peter Guibert and John Conroy, was commemorated by Jim and Ray and hopefully will be continued with the erection of a permanent monument. Again, what remarkable people I get to meet through my writing. If you’d like to purchase a pair of drumsticks, please contact me for more information.

I’m also gearing up to start some new Ligonier Valley Vignettes marketing and explore some other writing opportunities. I’ve also been extremely involved with the Westmoreland County Historical Society and their programming and fundraising events and it’s been wonderful (and crazy).  Stay tuned for a future blog post about that!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2013Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Thank you for following me here over the past year. I really appreciate everyone’s support and friendship. The holidays are here, the year is winding down and it’s time for some reflection on this past year before making plans and goals for the next one.

2013 was an eventful year for me with the release of Ligonier Valley Vignettes, but I continued to work with the Latrobe Bulletin throughout the year by not only covering monthly meetings but also writing some features on happenings in the Ligonier Valley.  I was really pleased to be able to cover some great local stories this year.  I learned so much more about the Lincoln Highway than I ever knew before after meeting a traveling songstress (now friend) who passed through Ligonier during the road’s centennial. I heard stories of hope and healing from local veterans who traveled down through the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Ligonier townspeople of all ages accomplished extraordinary things this year, from charitable work in a third-world country to jumping rope through New York City on live television.  I also covered some recent holiday-themed events in town that hopefully sparked fond memories and reminded us all of the true reason for the season. Please enjoy!

“Vintage Christmas in Ligonier” display lights up library
-December 6, 2013
Ligonier churches to host 2nd annual “Christmas Story and Nativity Display”
-November 30 – December 1, 2013
Ligonier jump rope team in Macy’s Parade
-November 23-24, 2013
Local vets share stories of healing from Grand Canyon trip

-November 9-10, 2013
LV Library to celebrate dinosaur’s 10th birthday
-October 16, 2013
Grand Canyon rafting trip helps wounded vets heal
-October 7, 2013
Ligonier missionaries spread ministry in Nicaragua
-August 5, 2013
Lincoln Highway songstress celebrates road’s centennial
-May 1, 2013
Ligonier trail bridge for Mill Creek arrives
-March 15, 2013

“Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Fall Wrap-Up

As I look back on this year and the time that has passed since my book came out, I can’t believe some of the events that I have been a part of during my marketing campaign. I’ve participated in several book sales and signings and given two presentations. For someone who is a very nervous public speaker, that’s a big deal!

This fall, I wrapped up my year of marketing with two events centered around the Diamond: a slide presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library and a holiday book signing at the Ligonier Sweet Shop during Black Friday weekend.

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

On Tuesday, October 29, I had the pleasure to give a presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library based on Ligonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands. As I summarized each section of my book and worked my way chronologically thorough the history of the Ligonier Valley, I displayed some slides containing images from my book. Afterwards, I met with some of the wonderful people who came out to hear my talk.

I also talked about the history of the Ligonier Valley Library and how a late-nineteenth century library presence eventually evolved into a community institution that’s connected to a county-wide system of libraries. The Ligonier Valley Library is very near and dear to my heart, as they have not only supported my research efforts for the past ten years, but I’ve made some wonderful friends there, most notably Pennsylvania Room Archivist Shirley Iscrupe, who I’ve talked about before. I can’t thank the Pennsylvania Room enough for its support. It’s been my haven for many years.  My book is intricately tied to the library, as many of the images contained in it are from the Pennsylvania Room’s collection.  One of the vignettes I included was a story I originally wrote for the Ligonier Echo about the library’s history that coincided with the 65th anniversary of the Ligonier Valley Library Association.  And, of course, Shirley wrote the wonderful foreword for Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  I really look forward to working with the library for many more years to come.

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

After my talk, Shirley presented me with a beautiful framed reprint of a map of Ligonier from 1900.  I will treasure it always.

I must thank the library, Director Janet Hudson, Pennsylvania Room Archivist Shirley Iscrupe and Pennsylvania Room Clerk Theresa Schwab for hosting my presentation and book signing event. Oh, and THANKS FOR THE COOKIES AND CIDER! (Yum!)

I also want to thank everyone who came out on a chilly fall night to hear my talk – I really appreciate you coming out to support me and learn about some of the great history that happened in the Ligonier Valley. It really means a lot!

Ligonier Sweet Shop 11-30-13

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Also, this past weekend, the Ligonier Sweet Shop hosted me during a holiday book signing during Small Business Saturday. The town was really hopping that weekend, first with Light-Up Night on Friday, where Dave and I got to meet Santa Claus before he joined a short parade around the Diamond.  Saturday was a busy shopping day and lots of people were out and about patronizing the shops and restaurants that are integral to the tourism that support the town. I have been very lucky not only to partner with a great small business in town owned by very kind people, Cokie and Richard Lindsay, but also to be able to build another connection to my book, as Cokie’s family owned Ligonier Beach, which I talk about in Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  All in all, it was very nice to start the holiday season off with some fun holiday events in Ligonier.

I don’t have any other author events scheduled until the spring, so I plan to take some time this winter to brainstorm ideas for the next book… Any suggestions?